The Empire Theatre, Eden Court
* * * *
by Calum Macleod
JOAN Armatrading gave a teasing introduction to her Inverness show, part of a tour that is both a first and a last for the veteran singer.
Both her last major tour and her first tour as a solo artist, the weight of over 40 years of touring and recording was not lost on Armatrading who suggested the evening might feature a song from every album of her career before announcing, to the disappointment of a significant portion of a packed Eden Court who evidently thought that was a great idea, "well, that's not going to happen."
Instead Armatrading cherry-picked songs from her back catalogue to mark the occasion, going all the way back to her debut album in 1972 with her song City Girl.
If there were any fears that the evening, which got off to a good start with a set from the clear-voiced Scottish singer Adriana Spina, would become a worthy night of glum singer-songwriter noodling on the acoustic guitar, these were quickly dispelled by the warmth of both Armatrading's cheery between-song chat and her pre-recorded backing tracks which subtly added extra colour to her music.
Not that she really needed it. At 63, her voice may be a little rougher than in her chart-bothering days, but she is still a first class guitar player, especially when dipping into material from her Grammy-nominated Blues album of a few years back. Nor did her keyboard playing let her down, despite pointing out that prior to this tour she had not played piano on stage since 1976.
Given the occasion, it was easy to allow a little indulgence in nostalgia, as Armatrading looked back at snaps from her career, especially as those snaps were taken by Annie Leibovitz, Robert Mapplethorpe and Lord Snowden and featured Armatrading alongside Paul McCartney, Elton John or Nelson Mandela.
She teased that as she had played signature song Love And Affection on every tour since its release this might be the tour to end the pattern. But, of course, she did play it. Just as she had to play Willow, pausing to let the audience gently take up the chorus in a magical moment to take away from what, sadly, might just be Armatrading's last appearance in these parts.